While there are plenty of Holocaust teaching resources for middle school students, teaching the Holocaust to this age group is still very challenging. How do you make the Holocaust relevant to them? And what are some ways to guide them through this incredibly upsetting subject?
Here is a list of five resources that can help you teach middle schoolers about the Holocaust.
The Butterfly Project
This incredible project uses the arts to educate students about the dangers of intolerance. It makes the Holocaust accessible to children, and presents the subject matter in a way that is poignant but not overly graphic or frightening.
The way it works is as follows: schools order kits containing ceramic butterflies, painting supplies, and cards with biographies of children who died in the Holocaust. After learning more about the children, each student receives a butterfly to paint in memory of them. The school or a community center then install the butterflies as a permanent memorial to the children who died in the Holocaust. The hope is one day there will be 1.5 million butterflies on display around the world, one for each Jewish child the world lost.
Visit their website to learn more about The Butterfly Project or to order a kit.
Inge Auerbacher’s I Am a Star
The story of Inge Auerbacher, a young girl who survived the war in Terezin, is a compelling way to bring the Holocaust to life for your middle school students. Inge is the author of several best selling books, including I Am a Star, which details her childhood and her time in Terezin. The book can be purchased on Amazon or through the publisher’s website.
I Am a Star is available in many languages and an 30th anniversary edition will soon be released. The book was also adapted into award-winning play, “The Star on My Heart”, which premiered in Ohio in 2015. Her story has also been featured on Butterflies in the Ghetto.
This documentary tells the story of a Holocaust memorial project started by teachers and middle school students in the small town of Whitwell, Tennessee.
As part of a Holocaust education project the students began collecting paper clips. Their goal was to acquire 1.5 million to represent each child lost in the Holocaust. The project took off and ultimately the entire community created a remarkable Holocaust memorial outside the school.
The Whitwell community built the memorial in an authentic cattle car from Germany. The result is a starkly beautiful memorial to the children of the Holocaust, and a powerful message about tolerance and acceptance of others.
Composer Hans Krása and librettist Adolf Hoffmeister created the children’s opera Brundibár in 1938. Incredibly, Krása was able to stage a production of the musical in Terezin.
The musical was later performed when the Red Cross visited Terezin and featured in a Nazi propaganda film. Tragically, Krása and most of the child performers were later sent to Auschwitz. Very few of them survived the war.
In more recent years, the children’s opera has become more popular. It is certainly a great play to bring to a middle school if possible. There are also videos of the production on YouTube that are worth viewing and discussing with your class.
Vedem is a literary magazine produced by the teenage boys of barrack L417 in Terezin. Fourteen-year-old Petr Ginz established the magazine, and he published a new issue almost every week. Petr created much of the content himself and the other boys contributed to it as well.
The magazine featured pieces on daily life in Terezin, satirical essays, poems, and short fiction, as well as artwork. Tragically, Petr and most of the other boys from barrack L417 died in Auschwitz.
Their legacy lives on in the writings and drawings they left behind. You can read more about Petr Ginz and Vedem here.
I have also created a free Vedem study guide for teachers. The guide is available to all subscribers to Butterflies In the Ghetto.
These are just a handful of resources teachers can use to help their middle school students better understand the Holocaust. I’ve found these to be particularly powerful in bringing stories from the Holocaust to light.
Have you used any of these in your teaching, and what have you found to be helpful? Please let me know in the comments below.